By Ethan Duran
On Wednesday Nov. 14, around 300 Bradley Tech students and 75 students from local middle schools used hammers, trowels and a VR welding station to see what it was like to be a real tradesperson. MPS hosted their Fourth “Annual Life Mentor Trades Fair” in Bradley Tech’s construction workshop during the entire school day, filling the room with the sound of saws, torches and the scraping of trowels. 12 booths were set up by different trade unions and featured demonstrations of crafts like bricklaying, sheet metal work and painting.
Some students got to try TIG welding in a VR simulation while others hammered together their own toolboxes out of pieces of sheet metal. Union workers made sure the students used proper protection gear like safety glasses or gloves as they walked them through the demonstrations. Booths handed out pamphlets describing different trade apprenticeships and what educational requirements needed to be met to get them in.
As high school students approach the end of their grade school careers, they will have the choice of pursuing further academics in college, taking an apprenticeship in the trades or immediately entering the workforce upon graduation. The focus of the Trades Fair is to give students a taste of what trade jobs are like and to get them connected to employers early on.
“When we look at the current occupational landscape, we need more trade jobs,” said Shapiro, referring to the widening skills gap. This is Shapiro’s second time attending the Trades Fair, and he says he loves it. “The fair gives young people insight on what they want to do with their lives. It gets them exposure here, and we want them to understand what the job entails.”
On top of providing a job in young peoples’ futures, kids find a way to turn their trade skills into an outlet for art or stress relief.
Interacting with other kids in the workshop was Khari Pleas-Carnie, a senior who was taking the welding path at Bradley Tech. Pleas-Carnie is learning to be a line mechanic for We Energies, a risky job that involves fixing power lines whenever they malfunction. His father before him worked as an electrician and his grandfather before him worked as a welder. When he was offered the program, Pleas-Carnie instinctively chose welding. “It runs in my blood to be a tradesman,” he said.
Pleas-Carnie said that his favorite part of the fair was the airbrush painting station, which was computerized like the VR welding station. Students practiced with a paint gun-shaped controller and sprayed a surface, which transferred onto a nearby computer monitor as paint on a wall. Pleas-Carnie uses his skills in airbrushing to fuel his art. “I paint clothes, shoes and shirts,” he said, turning around to proudly show off the back of his jacket.
The jacket was covered in acrylic paint, resembling the cover of “Acid Rap,” a mixtape released by Chicago rapper Chance The Rapper.
At the other end of the workshop, senior Rayshawn Simpson showed off the wooden skeleton of a booth he was building. “I noticed that kids in art class would get in trouble for making a mess,” Simpson said, “I wanted them to be able to express themselves without getting into trouble, so I started building this.” The booth was just in its initial stages, but Simpson explained his ideas on where things would go inside of it once it was done.
Simpson has tried all the trades Bradley Tech has to offer, but he said his favorite trade is carpentry. “I like to work with my hands, I like to build things and I like to design things. You can take one piece of wood and do something amazing with it.”
Dan Bukiewicz is the President of the Milwaukee Building & Construction Trades Council, which represents builders and construction workers in four different counties. He said the Trades fair is about educating students on what opportunities they have in trades, what they can do with just a high school diploma and getting them into the workforce with a family-supporting wage.
Bukiewicz also mentions the challenges that would come to a young person looking to enter an apprenticeship. “You need a real desire, a good attitude and to get your curriculum in a row before 18,” he says. “It’s not for everyone. Would you want to be out in this weather doing road work?” The highest temperature outside that day was 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
At Bradley Tech, 9th graders do a trade and technology survey class to get an idea of what path they want to pursue further. The trades section offers paths like welding, carpentry and machine tooling while technology offers paths like graphic art and web design. The school also works closely with MATC and UW Milwaukee, looking to send students there to get their Associate or Bachelor’s degree after high school.
“If I was in this program, I would jump on every opportunity,” Bukiewicz said. “It’s all there for them, they just gotta come and get it.”